In the wider Renault Group, there have been sweeping changes going on. New Group CEO Luca De Meo has chosen to re-arrange the company to put a higher focus on key brands – Renault, Dacia, Alpine and New Mobility. As part of this change, the French car manufacturer has opted to re-brand its Formula One team into Alpine.
The brand is renowned throughout motorsport, taking victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours and in rallying, to name a few; however, it had never appeared in F1 before. Sitting down with Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi, RaceFans revealed that the goal for the team is to keep improving along the positive path inaugurated last year, and possibly, fight for third place in the Constructors’ Championship.
“The goal [for the F1 team] is to make progress and get back to a higher standing, obviously. We were fifth last year, we want to be fifth at least this year, but we want to progress towards much higher up positions, obviously, the goal is to be a championship contender.”
Before accepting the role of Alpine CEO back in January, Rossi was chief strategy officer for the group. As of now, he is responsible for overseeing the full Alpine sports car operation, encompassing design, development, production, and marketing of the resurgent brand; plus the Viry-Châtillon F1 engine operation; and ‘Team Enstone’, the Renault Group’s F1 team, now branded ‘Alpine’.
So far, his new responsibilities and the team's organisation are working well, with both Marcin Budkowski, executive director of Alpine, and ex-Yamaha Moto GP team boss Davide Brivio, the team’s sporting director, reporting directly to him.
“It’s providing the results we wanted, we’ve made progress at the factory. It’s evident in terms of lap time gain. It’s mostly coming from Marcin’s review as well as Davide’s because there’s a feedback loop between what we do on track and what’s happening in the factory.
“[Trackside] there is also progress, in terms of the way we build the weekends for the drivers, build-up to qualifying, to the race. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…”
Rossi holds an MBA from Harvard and worked for the global Boston Consulting Group and Google’s automotive division before rejoining Renault in 2018. Before, he had been the powertrain project manager between 2000 and 2007. Making strategic choices is surely not a problem for him and neither is managing people (or drivers).
Speaking with RacingNews365, Rossi has expressed nothing but words of support for his drivers, who are apparently getting along very well.
Albeit Esteban Ocon currently sits ahead of his veteran two-times World Champion teammate Fernando Alonso, Rossi claims there's mutual respect between the two and their age gap doesn’t really matter.
"I think Esteban has been showing such a good performance that it's like he's sitting at the same table as Fernando even without the title.
“That commands respect from Fernando because he's getting like, hot laps qualifications are so good, that certainly the age barrier doesn't exist. It's more like 'you're a good driver, I'm a good driver, let's take this car higher, let's take the team higher'. So so far, it's been good,” Rossi explained.
Laurent Rossi believes that Alpine’s drivers combination is working smoothly, especially because the two time World Champion has become a 'wiser' driver since leaving F1.
Alonso had a reputation for being somewhat selfish during his first F1 career. This self-centric approach served him well on occasions, but this also meant that generally the Spaniard wasn't seen as a good team player.
However, during his time away from Formula One, Alonso raced as part of a three-man group with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship; this pushed him to learn to be less individualistic.
"He's become wiser! I have no idea, perhaps it's age! But he's actually amazingly easy to work with. And actually, it shows with Esteban.
“The two of them never stop talking about this collaboration. That's good. Fernando speaks highly of Esteban saying he is fast. There are no bad words, bad-mouthing”, said Rossi.
Following a long and unsatisfactory stint with McLaren, which he left at the end of 2018, Alonso was tempted back to Formula 1 after two years of hiatus to rejoin his former Renault team.
Rossi believes that the 'real' Alonso is still finding his feet, however, the Spanish Champion is doing very well compared to his much younger teammate. He just needs a bit more continuity but there's no external pressure or deadline on the Spaniard for getting up to speed immediately.
"This is a world champion, two times, super senior driver. He knows himself better than anyone else. And he has personal requirements that are clearly matching what we expect from him.
"We know, him and I, and everyone else in the team actually, that this year would be a transition year in many respects, all we want him to do is to be able to grab some points and be an almost equal teammate to Esteban at the very least, which he is doing. He needs to be ready for next year when the new cars arrive."
Alonso’s expertise is precious for the entire team, explained Rossi.
"Fernando is extremely exacting in terms of his feedback and the stuff he wants from the engineers. This is helpful because actually, it pushes Esteban to do the same. And both of them are comparing notes very often to improve the level of the car, but also the team and the way we work."